February 22, 2006
Mercury-Register (Oroville, California)
Groups seek warning Prop. 65 label for
Citing federal inaction, environmentalists
and labor unions ask the state to warn public about dangers of
By Douglas Fischer,
Non-stick pans, wind-proof coats, even
that 40-pound sack of dogfood hauled home from Costco the other
day all need a state Proposition 65 warning because they conceal
a potential human carcinogen, a coalition of labor and environmental
groups said Wednesday.
The culprit is PFOA, a long-living chemical necessary for modern
wonders such as Gore-Tex and Teflon but suspected of contaminating
the blood of everyone on the globe. Earlier this month, a federal
scientific advisory panel concluded that PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic
acid, likely causes cancer in humans.
On Wednesday, seven groups - including
United Steelworkers, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Working
Group - asked state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to force manufacturers
to warn customers under the 1986 consumer protection law known
as Proposition 65.
The law requires warning labels on products known to contain
carcinogens or reproductive toxins. Most manufacturers faced with
a Proposition 65 requirement retool their products to remove the
"When you think of PFOA, you should
think of it as one of the nastiest, most toxic, environmentally
unfriendly chemicals," said Richard Wiles, senior vice president
of Environmental Working Group. "Citizens should have the
right to shop their way around this chemical and make decisions
to reduce their exposure."
DuPont, the sole U.S. manufacturer of PFOA and maker of Teflon,
called a Proposition 65 listing "unwarranted and unjustified."
Meanwhile, the top federal regulator overseeing PFOA said Wednesday
that industry and government were working quickly to reduce exposure
and that consumers need not worry.
"We're not recommending that consumers take any immediate
action," said Charles Auer, director of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.
PFOA serves the same function as a drop of soap added to a jar
of oil and water: it forces two compounds to mix that otherwise
would not go together. It is crucial for the manufacture of almost
all non-stick and wind- and water-resistant materials.
Products it creates withstand the most punishing and exacting
environments modern industry can throw at it: pipe liners at oil
refineries and semiconductor manufacturing plants, high-temperature
car engines, surgical devices, even space suits.
It has also become indispensable in consumer
products: fleece that blocks wind, carpets that won't stain, microwave
popcorn bags that don't leak. Paper dog food bags would not be
the same without the chemical, as they would disintegrate without
a special treated layer to block the oils.
"There are no human health effects associated with PFOA,"
said David Boothe, DuPont's strategic planning manager for fluoroproducts.
"At least three independent government agencies have said
there is no risk to using products made with PFOA."
But for regulators PFOA is uncomfortably longlasting: virtually
indestructible in the environment, with a half-life in the body
- the time necessary to purge half the contaminant from blood
and other body tissues - of four years in humans.
Various studies suggest PFOA is present in the blood of most
people at a level of 5 parts-per-billion or less. Mashed potatoes
seasoned at such a concentration would require 5 grains of salt
for 110 pounds of spuds.
Scientists are uncertain what it does there,
but in lab animals it is thought to cause testicular, pancreatic,
mammary and liver cancers.
Last month, the U.S. EPA announced a voluntary program with industry
to eliminate 95 percent of all PFOA emissions and contamination
from products by 2010. Auer said Wednesday that's faster than
any ban the agency could force into the books.
But environmental and labor activists said that wasn't fast enough.
"We have conducted a massive experiment with the American
people as a result of the flaws in our chemical policies,"
said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "The potential
for such widespread exposure demands that our government err on
the side of caution."
• More information about this newspaper's special investigation
of our chemical "body burden" can be found on the Web